Oboles de Lucerne
The mysterious apéritif biscuits!
I’ve been meaning to write about these unusual biscuits for several years and now that I’ve got this more expanded newsletter that you’re reading right now, it’s time to share them with you. I first discovered Oboles de Lucerne when a friend’s mom in Paris offered them during apéro hour. Since then I’ve been hooked on the uber-thin, crispy wafer that nearly melts in your mouth, but has enough resistance and crunch to feel as if you’re eating something more substantial, if that makes sense. The fact that they have little tiny seeds in them just adds to their appeal.
The apéritif snack aisle in the French supermarket can be overwhelming, including bags of potato chips flavored with everything, from salted butter caramel and oysters, to aïoli, poulet rôti (roast chicken), onion confit, salted butter, and even one that’s new to me, sheep’s milk cheese and cherry, which my friend Jennifer kindly brought to my attention on Instagram. Uh…thanks?
Other salty treats on that aisle (which nowadays as as long and varied as the yogurt aisle) also includes pretzels, nuts, mini-sausages, peanuts, popcorn (usually sweetened), cheese puffs, crackers, and “3-D Bugles” which I admit, like the lady below, I enjoy partager-ing a moment with, when I see a bowl of them at a party…
There are even peanut-butter flavored Curly Chips, a curiosity in a land of people who don’t especially like peanut butter. But I guess when it’s deep-fried in a crunchy snack, it gets a pass.
Now that I’ve made it clear that the French do like to snack as much as anyone else, getting back to the topic at hand, Les Oboles de Lucerne are in a class by themselves, and are found in the more upscale aisle of les supermarchés, rather than by the lowly peanuts and pretzels.
However a fairly comprehensive search online turned up nearly zéro information on them, including their history. France celebrates its culinary traditions proudly, and every town or region with a specialty product has built a museum dedicated to it, delving into the history and lore of everything from apple cider and milk, to honey and prunes. And yes, I’ve been to the prune museum.
[Pro tip: The best part of those museums are invariably the gift shops, although the milk museum may not be a good place to stock up on milk unless you live nearby.]
But les oboles? Pas beaucoup. (And dang it, there’s no museum either.) The recipe comes from Switzerland - so perhap in hindsight I should have expanded my search online to include Italian, German, and Swiss-German…but English and French are my limits. The little I found online said the recipe dates back to the end of the 19th century, 1877 to be exact. And that ends our Oboles history lesson for today.
The company that makes these, Albert Menes, makes them in several flavors. And even those are shrouded in a bit a mystery:
I do understand Emmenthal cheese as well as poppy seeds, two other flavors they come in, but the cumin/caraway conundrum (above, and below) eludes me.
The label in French says “cumin” but the ingredient list in English says caraway seed, called graines de carvi in French, not cumin. Hmmm…
Caraways seeds are relatively unknown in France, although perhaps in Germany-adjacent Alsace, they’re more familiar. But in Paris, you’ll get blank looks when you mention the curvy little carvi seeds. So maybe the company decided cumin was a better selling point than carvi and took some language liberties. I can’t say.
These are mysterious biscuits indeed. No one seems to have any idea how they came to be, and where exactly they came from (or how they’re made), but suspect there’s a machine that transforms the “very liquid” dough (as the description above says) into the remarkably crisp, crackly, extremely pleasant apéritif biscuit that I love. A recipe might be hard to come by for Recipe, Please! crowd, but they may be made similar to communion wafers, however I don’t know if anyone ever makes those*, as these sisters do.
The sister’s dough is so liquid I’m going to make the call and say that it’s more of a batter.
All I know at this point is that it’s hard not to keep eating these biscuits. An entire box of them is only 3.5 ounces (100g) which, without me getting my scale out and weighing them (Romain is constantly baffled by me weighting things like 10 chocolate chips or a medium clove of garlic…but he doesn’t have a food blog…), I’d guess the whole box weights about the equivalent of 5-9 potato chips.
At the risk of being Debbie Downer, a friend worked for an internationally-known diet system once told me that on day 1, they’d put a bag’s worth of potato chips in a blender, turn it on, and show the attendees how the chips quickly break down into a thick, greasy sludge. Now, every time I eat potato chips, I think about that. (Still, I occasionally eat and love potato chips, but the visual in my head has definitely worked in curbing my formerly insatiable appetite for them. Merci, Madame Craig…) So I’m more inclined to eat these biscuits at apéro hour, whether flavored with cheese, poppyseeds or cumin, or caraway,** than some of the other snacks in the apéritif aisle.
(Although I’ll admit those salted butter potato chips do have a certain appeal…)
Oboles de Lucerne are available at most supermarkets in France and supermarkets sometimes have a dedicated “Albert Ménès shelf,” or they’re available via the Albert Ménès website. (This isn’t a sponsored post and that link is just for your information.) I couldn’t locate them outside of France but check my post How to Find Foods Online for search tips as you may have more luck than me.
*I did find recipes for communion wafers online but they don’t look like the very thin, very crispy ones I’ve seen.
**I didn’t show the expectorated seed, nor the picture I took of it (you’re welcome…) but I let one of the seeds roll around in my mouth for a while, and when I “deposited” it into my hand, it looked mighty similar to a caraway seed. The more biscuits I ate, the more I felt the slight sharp burn of carvi in my mouth, a tasted memory I still have due to all the rye bread I grew up eating. So unless anyone knows otherwise, I’m going to call it and say those are caraway seeds in there.